First place: Josh Salman, The Herald-Tribune

About this entry: “The longstanding yet little known EB-5 visa program allows wealthy foreigners to jump to the head of the immigration line, pumping capital into real estate from Seattle to Miami. But a six-month Herald-Tribune investigation found the program is rife with fraud and that the government has no firm handle on who’s getting in – raising questions of national security. The Herald-Tribune’s six-part series, ‘Shortcut to the American Dream,’ exposes how businessmen with tarnished reputations exploit the visa program: developers with histories of failed projects, financiers barred from selling securities and entrepreneurs battling allegations of fraud. Meanwhile, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services does little to check the backgrounds of wealthy foreigners, who invest up to $1 million apiece in return for green cards and permanent residency.” — Bill Church

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Read online: The Shortcut to the American Dream, Foreign exchange investor loses clients’ money, trust, Flippers find a way

Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshSalman

What a comprehensive and eye-opening look into an immigration loophole. This series was well-executed, covering the pros and cons of the programs and the impact on so many communities and businesses. And man did it scream potential security breech. The work led to instant results. Fantastic work.

Second place: Barbara Peters Smith, The Herald-Tribune

About this entry: “The Herald-Tribune began looking into the shadowy, insular world of elder guardianship in October 2012 and by the end of 2015, the newspaper’s unstinting coverage had raised public awareness and resulted in meaningful reform.” — Bill Church

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Read online: Elder guardianship: A well-oiled machine

Follow Barbara on Twitter @BarbaraPSmith

In a public service category, it’s important to see an entry about an issue that truly affects a community. This project was throughout reported and did a good job of giving several examples of the kinds of people and incidents that this can occur. Your work helped create new community programs to hopefully decrease these cases.

Third place: Staff, Rockford Register Star

About this entry: “About 45,000 adults in the Rockford region lack a high school diploma or a GED certificate. The absence of a culture of education is widely blamed for the area’s high rates of crime, poverty and other social ills, which have been documented repeatedly by the Register Star.

The sheer volume of under-educated residents puts a brake on the aspirations of a region that is striving to remake the local workforce to meet the demands of the 21st century global economy. Rockford is, at heart, a manufacturing city, and at one time it wasn’t uncommon for a young man or woman to graduate from high school on a Friday night and start a well-paying job in a factory the following Monday.

Nowadays, however, most jobs in advanced industries like aerospace require at least an associate’s degree. Workers in the large plants and smaller job shops that dot the region’s landscape possess sharp math skills, strong oral and written communications skills, and an aptitude for lifelong learning. So the educational achievement gap is an enormous obstacle.

Throughout 2015, the Register Star focused like a laser on the causes of and potential solutions for the GED crisis, in news stories, editorials and a special section published in October.  The Register Star’s leadership riveted public attention on the issue and produced results —shortly after the first of the year, we reported that Goodwill Industries would develop plans for a high school for adults. (That story, published in January, is included in this entry simply for context.) This entry contains the best of our coverage, along with letters from three key stakeholders — the United Way, Rock Valley College and Transform Rockford — attesting to the newspaper’s service and leadership.” — Mark Baldwin, executive editor

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Follow Rockford on Twitter @rrstar

Who would have thought to go after this issue? The lack of folks with GED’s was a gutsy piece of public service work that truly showed how this community was struggling with these efforts. Great work.